Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Q&A with Defne Suman


Photo by Asli Girgin





Defne Suman is the author of the new novel Summer Heat. The novel was translated from Turkish to English by Betsy Göksel. Suman's other books include the novel The Silence of Scheherazade. She was born in Istanbul and she lives in Athens.


Q: What inspired you to write Summer Heat, and how did you create your character Melike?


A: The initial idea has something to do with separation, disconnection, and unity.


I thought about metaphors for gray zones, twilights, in-between situations. Cyprus after 1974 came to mind. After that, the plot took off.


As for Melike...From the very beginning, I wanted to create a female narrative. A female narrator with all her paradoxes, conflicting desires, circling thoughts, etc.


She is about to turn 40. She is aware that she cannot be considered part of the young generation, but she is not ready to accept being middle-aged. So she is somewhere in between.


Being a woman means being in between all the time. It is hard for us to be in one place with all of ourselves, hard to forget responsibilities or the image we present.


Melike is the voice of separation and disconnection within. She longs to belong, she longs to complete herself.


Q: The novel is set in 2003 and 1974--did you need to do any research to write it, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did extensive research for this book.


The first part of the book takes place in Istanbul, where I grew up. I know the city well. My parents grew up there and went to school in Istanbul. I asked them about life in Istanbul during the late 1960s and 1970s.


I also did more research on the history of Cyprus. As someone from Turkey, I was aware of only one part of the so-called Cyprus problem. I read Greek, Cypriot, British, and Turkish research focused on the islands’ ethnic problems.


I was not expecting to get the accounts of systematized rapes that took place during the unrest of 1963 and the war in 1974. When there is a war or unrest, women suffer the most. Also in Cyprus, it was women who were raped, displaced, and shamed.

A young friend who was doing her Ph.D. thesis on the rapes of 1974 on Cyprus told me about some very tragic cases from both sides of the island.


I believe it was important to add this to the story, especially because my initial attempt was to build a feminine voice. Any taboo subject that we as women were asked NOT to talk about, I tried to bring it to the front via Melike or the story.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Melike and your character Petro?


A: Petro represents everything that Melike desires, although she is unaware of this. He reminds her of her father and her grandmother Safinaz as well. Petro is Cyprus. She doesn’t know who she is until Petro reveals the truth about her father, grandfather, and ancestors. Petro is the bridge through which she reunites with her father and her identity.


As for Petro, Melike is the real child of Orhan. She is the one who was loved from the beginning. For a boy like Petro who grew up in the tragic mess of post-1974 Cyprus, Melike represents the dream of stability, peace, and beauty.


Love at first sight is inevitable in a formula like this.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Our identities are all made up. The story of our lives begins even before we're born. But it's still a story.  It's a made-up one. You can believe you're from a certain nation, ethnic group, or religion but this is not set in stone. Not even your gender.


The truth may be something else. Your grandmother could be someone else than you think who she is. All the world around you can shift in one instance.


Our beliefs about one and another are nothing but narratives. What is real is the bonds we create with other people. Love is real. Friendship is real. Caring is real. I hope my readers feel the truth in their hearts after reading Summer Heat.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm currently working on a novel that explores the magic of friendship and the power of memory. It's about a group of friends who reunite after 33 years and find that their memories of the past are as unique as they are. The story is called The Memory Gap.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I'm a big fan of second-time reading! When you read a novel or a short story for the second time, you enjoy it in a whole new way. The first time, you're just along for the ride, reading to find out what happens.


But when you read a book the second time, you know the story. You don't have to worry about figuring out the plot. Then the deeper design reveals itself, and you get to appreciate it in a whole new way. For me, that's when the real literary satisfaction begins.


I really hope my readers read Summer Heat a second or perhaps a third time and see what I aspired to do by writing it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Defne Suman.

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